Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Climate Round-Up

One of the side effects of following developments in climate change is having to pull your punches. There are things you don't want to talk about, especially not in conversation and even with those closest to you. It's as though there are things that are taboo, lines that must not be crossed.

For me, one of these is the issue of catastrophic or "runaway" global warming. That point, wherever it is, when natural mechanisms sometimes called "feedback loops" kick in, gradually eclipsing even man-made climate change.

Even the best climate scientists can only speculate on that point of departure where our last chance of averting catastrophic change has been foreclosed. After that you're just along for the ride. It's almost certain we, the great unwashed, won't know what has befallen us until well after it's too late. Certainly not with the political leadership of the current era, a.k.a. the wilfully blind.

The wildfires that have raced across the Arctic this year may be the harbinger of runaway climate change. That vast region contains massive amounts of greenhouse gases, primarily CO2 and methane.  The loss of Arctic sea ice and the warming of the waters of the Arctic Ocean and associated seas adds a new source of water vapour to the atmosphere, itself a very potent greenhouse gas.

The state of the climate is still somewhat speculative. Don't count on your leaders to keep you informed. We've got a guy who will look audiences straight in the face and claim that flooding world markets with high-carbon, low-value bitumen is the key to a green future for Canada.

So, what's new? Just be glad you're not Chinese. The Peoples Republic is making strides in developing alternative clean energy but it's also expanding its coal-powered electrical system. Not good. A new report warns that China is facing another compounding threat - the jet stream.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) finds that Chinese smog will be compounded by 'stagnant air' that hovers in place for long periods. The jet stream we used to have (for most of my lifetime) moved like a gently undulating snake. It was great for agriculture among other things.  Today's jet stream often looks more like this:

Today's jet stream is erratic. It can draw polar air deep into the south and warm air from the south high into the Arctic. The new jet can also stall out. It can "park" weather systems over the same place for extended periods. Remember the last Calgary floods? That's what happened.  Go back a few years before that and you might remember a few days in February where Atlanta, Georgia was ice bound, while a village in northern Alaska logged 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Same deal.

In other climate news, the folks in Nepal are not happy with what they find awaits the glaciers of the Himalayas this century. A study concludes that even if mankind did limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (dream on) the glaciers would lose a third of their ice by 2100. That's the best case scenario. If we go along with the fossil fuelers, including our own, it's more likely to reduce those glaciers by two-thirds or more.  The hook is that China, India and Pakistan are mortally reliant upon access to freshwater from the Himalayan headwaters which, conveniently for China, are largely found in Chinese-occupied Tibet. I suppose it doesn't help that the three countries vying for access to those waters are geopolitical rivals and they're all nuclear armed. What would go wrong?

Here's one for the pipeline builders. A new study concludes the world needs to start shutting down fossil energy infrastructure - now. Anything short of a government shutdown, what Schellnhuber described as an "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry, will defeat any chance we have of averting catastrophic climate change.

Now I hate to piss on the Dauphin's parade but high-carbon, low-value fossil fuels have to be left in the ground even if that does disrupt his political agenda. It's a pretty nihilistic political platform yet it's gospel to Liberal and Conservative alike.

What cheerful news from The Guardian today? Not much, sorry.

Scientists at Cornell University have found that fracked oil and gas wells are releasing far more methane gas than imagined. These 'fugitive emissions' have been climbing sharply since 2008.
Robert Howarth, the author of the paper published in the journal Biogeosciences, said the proportion of methane with a “carbon signature” linked to traditional fossil fuels was falling relative to the rise of methane with a slightly different carbon make-up. 
Researchers had previously assumed the “non-traditional” methane was from biological sources such as cows and wetlands, but the latest research suggests unconventional oil and gas from fracking may be playing a significant part. 
The theory would support a correlation in the rise of methane in the atmosphere and the boom in fracking across the US over the last decade. 
“This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.”
There's a new industry in Iceland making brass plaques to commemorate the demise of the island's glaciers.

They figure they'll be needing another 400 or so before long. Fortunately - and unfortunately - that's all the glaciers they've got.  While Icelanders mourn with tasteful brass plaques, their neighbours in Greenland are losing their minds, succumbing to despair and depression.  Can't be helped, I suppose.

The American Meteorological Society has released its 2018 State of the Climate Report, all 325 pages of it. The link will take you to all 325 of those pages.  The 11 page Executive Summary is here.  Cut to the chase - atmospheric greenhouse gas loading in 2018 were the highest on record - and those records reach back 800,000 years.
Greenhouse gases were at levels unseen in 60 years of modern measurements and 800,000 years of ice core data, the study found. The data used in the 325-page report was collected from more than 470 scientists in 60 countries. 
The global annual average for carbon dioxide, which is elevated because of human activities such as driving cars and burning fuel, was 407.4 parts per million, 2.4 ppm higher than in 2017. The warming influence of CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere is now nearly 43% stronger than in 1990.
If you prefer your climate info in charts and pictures, there's the World Meteorological Organization's 2018 State of the Global Climate review.

A study conducted in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado finds plastic microfibers in the water. It's raining plastic.

The Washington Post reports that 70 American counties have already exceeded 2 degrees Celsius of warming. The story, of course, is firewalled but Grist has the details.
While the east coast has been sizzling this summer, the Post found that most regional increases were driven by warming winter temperatures, not summer heat waves. That’s means lakes can’t freeze (causing algae blooms, in some cases) and pests don’t die as per usual in certain historically cold regions. Less snow and ice also means those regions are less able to reflect solar radiation during winter, further feeding into the warming cycle.

The freezing point “is the most critical threshold among all temperatures,” David A. Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist and professor at Rutgers University’s department of geography, told the Post. 
Scientists aren’t yet sure why the Northeast is warming so quickly. But experts say these 2-degree C hotspots are like little pieces of the future here in the present, showing us what’s coming.
A particularly vulnerable region is southern California. They're what you might call "screwed." Sorry, LA, sorry San Diego. Same, same for Florida.

Observer political columnist, Will Hutton, writes that we should not despair. Climate change and other forces will herald the end of the lousy governance of the neoliberal era. He claims that "these are the dying days of a rancid old order." You be the judge of that.

If you find yourself in need of a bit of cheering up, there's always Monty Python's Eric Idle.


Toby said...

Mound, do you send your posts to our Environment Minister? To the PM? Your local MP? I learned about the Spaceship Earth problem from reading Buckminster Fuller and the greenhouse gas problem from the Vancouver Planetarium, both when I was very much younger. The basic information has been available for a long time and most of the important parts are available for free to anyone who simply looks. C'mon, people, pine trees are not normally brown. The first time I saw the Columbia Ice Field the ice was down to the road; now it is almost out of sight. People used to ice skate across Okanagan Lake; not anymore. That stuff has to tell us something. There is a collective shrug or maybe rejoicing over warmer winters. Sorry, I'm rambling. I guess panic causes that. Greta Thunberg is right; we should panic. Instead, we are inconvenienced. Our politicians are really inconvenienced by climate change which doesn't fit with their plans. Oh, well, the song was good.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, I don't send this stuff to anyone. If they had to rely on me for their briefing that would be profound dereliction of duty. They ought to be receiving these summaries every morning although I doubt that happens. And, yeah, the song was a fitting end.